Tamerlane was once one of the world’s most feared conquerors and kings. In the course of amassing his Eurasian empire in the late 14th Century, experts say he killed some 5% of the Earth’s population.

But his legacy left behind some beauty as well, and today, 25 years into its independence, Uzbekistan has made the controversial ruler its greatest national hero by restoring many of the structures that he built.

Samarkand, the desert city that was the capital of Tamerlane’s global empire, is both imperial and exotic, full of palaces and mosques, madrasas and mausoleums, soaring minarets and massive domes, all of them appointed with ornate blue tiles and hundreds of years of history. Pictured here is the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, which was built between the 11th and 19th Centuries. It houses the graves of Tamerlane’s relatives and, according to legend, the cousin of the prophet Mohammed.